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‘Code Red’ Air Quality Alert in Effect as Haze Blankets Area (Photos)

Due to worsening air quality caused by smoke from vast Canadian wildfires, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection upgraded the Code Orange air quality alert it issued yesterday to a Code Red alert for Wednesday, and some local outdoor activities are being postponed or canceled.

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Traffic moves along Main Street in Hellertown Wednesday, under a shroud of haze. The smog is a result of wildfires burning across Canada, and covers much of the Mid-Atlantic region, where air quality alerts are in effect.

Due to worsening air quality caused by smoke from wildfires ravaging parts of Canada, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection upgraded the Code Orange air quality alert it first issued Tuesday to a Code Red alert on Wednesday. Meanwhile, some local outdoor activities were postponed or canceled because of the unhealthy haze that blanketed the region.

The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley announced that its weekly outdoor summer music series–Party at the Patio–would not be held Wednesday evening “due to air quality concerns.”

As another wave of Quebec-born wildfire smoke wafted southward across the Lehigh Valley Wednesday afternoon, the Code Red alert remained in effect for Northampton, Lehigh, Bucks, Montgomery, Carbon, Monroe and other counties in eastern Pennsylvania, where in addition to the haze an unpleasant, burnt odor filled the air. Some residents said the odor made them feel ill.

A Code Red alert is issued when air pollution rises to a level that has the potential to affect residents of all ages and without underlying health problems; a relatively rare occurrence in this area.

Above, two photos taken of the same section of South Mountain in Fountain Hill–near Bethlehem–show the dramatic increase in smog between Tuesday afternoon (top photo) and Wednesday afternoon (bottom photo).

Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s U.S. Air Quality Index, a Code Red classification means that “some members of the general public may experience health effects (and) members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.” Examples of sensitive groups include small children, the elderly and individuals with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other health conditions that may make them more susceptible to the negative effects of breathing polluted air.

According to a Guide for Particle Pollution published on the website, when a Code Red alert is in effect, sensitive groups should avoid long or intense outdoor activities and consider rescheduling or moving activities indoors. All others should reduce their participation in “long or intense activities” and “take more breaks during outdoor activities.” For individuals who are members of sensitive groups, the use of air conditioning may be helpful, and the EPA advises that anyone staying indoors should not do so with the windows closed during spells of hot weather.

Fortunately, although it remains extremely dry across the Mid-Atlantic states, temperatures are lower than average for this time of year. Wednesday’s high in Allentown was forecast to be just 71.

Due to the lack of rain, combined with low humidity and breezy conditions, a Red Flag Warning is once again in effect for the Lehigh Valley area and beyond. A red flag warning means there is an elevated risk of wildfire due to weather conditions, and residents are being urged to exercise caution if handling any potential ignition sources, such as machinery, cigarettes and matches.

The DEP has issued another Code Orange air quality alert for the Lehigh Valley for Thursday in anticipation of continued poor air quality throughout the region.

Residents should continue to monitor local weather and air quality forecasts for updates on the situation.

PHOTOS BELOW of scenes in Hellertown borough contributed by Alec Bachman

PHOTOS BELOW of scenes around the Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh area and South Bethlehem by Josh Popichak

Normally there is a clear view of Fountain Hill and much of Bethlehem from atop Gauff’s Hill in Salisbury Township, however due to the thick haze caused by Canadian wildfires visibility was severely reduced Wednesday.

Due to unusually poor air quality, the ridgeline of South Mountain was shrouded in haze Wednesday. The above view is looking west from Center Valley Parkway near Rt. 378 in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County.

Along Rt. 378 in Lower Saucon Township, the sky had a yellow tinge to it on Wednesday afternoon. In addition to the haze, a smoky odor hung in the air. This photo was taken near the Saucon Valley Square shopping center.

Looking east on Seidersville Road in Lower Saucon Township, it was more difficult than usual to discern the distant mountainside, due to the haze.

Many drivers drove with their headlights on, perhaps due to the reduced visibility caused by the haze. Pictured above is Rt. 412, looking north, near the Hellertown borough-Lower Saucon Township line.

Despite the hazy conditions, the Giant sign was still visible from along Rt. 412 in Lower Saucon Township Wednesday afternoon. The store is located in the Creekside Marketplace shopping center on Rt. 412.

Above, Rt. 412 (Leithsville Road) in Lower Saucon Township was blanketed by the haze on Wednesday afternoon.

Friedens Evangelical Lutheran Church on W. Saucon Valley Road in Upper Saucon Township was visible through the haze caused by Canadian wildfires Wednesday.

South Mountain is normally visible beyond the Hill-to-Hill Bridge in Bethlehem. That wasn’t the case on Wednesday, due to poor visibility caused by the haze that has caused health concerns throughout the area. The haze is a result of smoke from Canadian wildfires drifting south across the northeastern United States.

For local residents who remember the days of steel manufacturing in Bethlehem, the sight of the plant’s former blast furnaces shrouded in smog Wednesday may have evoked memories of the manufacturing era in the city.

Apples Church Road in Lower Saucon Township is shrouded by haze caused by smoke from Canadian wildfires Wednesday.

Grave markers in the cemetery along W. Saucon Valley Road near Friedens Evangelical Lutheran Church in Upper Saucon Township appeared fittingly bleak underneath Wednesday’s thick blanket of haze.

Above, the view of St. Luke’s Hospital from Delaware Avenue in Fountain Hill is obscured by thick haze in the air Wednesday. The haze blanketing the area is a result of hundreds of wildfires burning across eastern Canada.

Looking north on Rt. 412 from near the I-78 interchange in Bethlehem, the sky was a sickly shade of yellowish green Wednesday afternoon. Although typically many drivers would have had their windows down on an early June day, most motorists appeared to be driving with their windows rolled up due to the smoggy conditions and the fact that a “Code Red” air quality alert is in effect for the region.

The I-78 overpass on Rt. 412 (Main Street) in Hellertown and Bethlehem was shrouded in smog Wednesday afternoon.


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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